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September 20, 2014 / 25 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Orthodox Jews’

Next Year In… Milwaukee?

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

I finally went to the Orthodox Union’s annual Jewish Communities Fair. As a long-time pro-Aliyah activist, I had been curious about this event, and so while on tour in America, I joined the hungry Modern-Orthodox masses at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Pavilion as they searched for new communities and a new life in far flung locales like Jacksonville, Florida, Louisville, Kentucky, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin – but not Israel.

I expected to see a moderately attended event. But to my surprise, the venue was packed with over 1,300 people, exploring the forty-one different communities represented. There was so much noise, I had to stand close in order to hear community leaders make their pitches.

OU Flyer

You may wonder, as I did, why would Modern-Orthodox Jews want to leave the kosher conveniences of the NY area and move to remote places like Southfield, Michigan. It turns out, that first and foremost, the answer is affordability: cheaper housing, cheaper education, and getting more for your money. A high quality of life at an affordable price. And incentives. Some communities promise incentives like a $20,000 gift for a down-payment on your home, and free tuition from kindergarten through grade 12.

Josh Elbert, who flew in to represent Southfield, shared with me how he had come to this fair a few years ago and was skeptical when the Michigan people approached him. They said to him, “Don’t judge until you see it,” and indeed, when he saw it, he was smitten. “I am a success story of this event. Because of the connections we made here, we were able to provide a terrific opportunity for our family,” he told me. Because of the drop in real estate, he mentioned, one can buy a very large home for $115,000 in Southfield. Someone who makes forty-five thousand dollars a year can live next to a millionaire.

But there are other reasons to move to the American periphery – such as the opportunity to join a tight-knit community and make an impact on a growing shul, or aging congregation seeking new blood.

OU Community Fair Chesterfield & Crowd

I spoke with Rabbi Aaron Winter who came to Chesterfield, Missouri twenty two years ago to serve as their rabbi. He explained to me that Chesterfield is part of greater St. Louis, that they have a congregation of 80 Orthodox families, and their own mikvah and Chafetz Chaim Mesivta. He told me that his shul had succeeded in bringing many non-affiliated Jews closer to Torah. As he put it, “we are on the front lines of Orthodox Jewry in St. Louis.” Now, Chesterfield is looking to grow and they are offering up to five families a grant of twenty thousand dollars each towards the purchase of a home. “When you are an out-of-town community, even one family is gold. People appreciate you being here,” Rabbi Winter told me.

So cheaper housing, affordable education, a sense of community, and the promise of a better quality of life, are luring Jews to middle-America.

Understandable, reasonable, and respectable!

But what about the Israel option? Were any of the Modern Orthodox attendees at the OU’s Community Fair considering moving east of New York, to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv? There was no way to really know because there were no tables representing emerging communities in the emerging Jewish state. Had there been a table for, let’s say, Efrat, Modiin, or Maale Adumim, then one could gauge how much action that table saw as compared with Portland. But alas, that option did not exist. The message of the fair was clear enough: If the Orthodox Union is going to help you find a new future – it is going to be in America.

That should come as no surprise. If you go to the OU’s website, you will see lots of pro-Israel links. But if you hover your mouse over the flag of Israel at the top of the site, a text pops up which reads: “Our ‘home away from home’ in Jerusalem, the OU Israel Center, annually welcomes over 100,000 visitors and residents.” The obvious implication is that Israel is a home away from home, but home is America. Another proof of this thinking was laid bare in the ‘Communities Guide’ which was given out at the fair. In it were page after page of US destinations for “Home & Job Relocation” with pictures, contact numbers, and websites. Yet on the back cover the full page glossy called on all to: “Join Us in Celebrating Israel’s 65th Birthday – March with the OU at the Celebrate Israel Parade.” Again, the message is clear: you can celebrate Israel and love Israel with the OU, but if you’re looking to move, consider Cleveland.

Romney’s Frum Adviser Sums Up Campaign

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Had Mitt Romney won the presidential election on November 6, Tevi Troy would be busy working right now as director of domestic policy on Romney’s transition team. Fate had other ideas, though.

Troy, who served as special policy adviser to Romney’s presidential campaign, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute think tank. An Orthodox Jew who grew up in Queens, Troy has served in a number of government positions over the past 15 years, including deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in President George W. Bush’s administration. At one point he was also the White House’s lead adviser on healthcare, labor, education, transportation, immigration, crime, veterans affairs, and welfare.

Troy is also the author of two books: “Intellectuals and the American Presidency: Philosophers, Jesters, or Technicians?” (2002) and “What Washington Read, Eisenhower Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House” (forthcoming, 2013).

The Jewish Press recently spoke with him.

The Jewish Press: What exactly did you do for Romney?

Troy: I advised on a host of issues, including health policy, domestic policy, and also Jewish issues. I made TV and radio appearances, spoke to the media on Governor Romney’s behalf, and even debated Jack Lew, White House chief of staff, at a Cleveland shul a few days before the campaign ended.

What was Romney like as a person?

Well, it’s hard to say what he’s like on a trip to Disney World or something like that.

In terms of policy, he’s very bright and knowledgeable and picks up stuff very quickly. I was in a series of policy meetings he had in Washington where he met with experts on various issues; I headed the healthcare briefing. He walked into that room with no notes, spoke off the cuff very knowledgably about healthcare, and then took questions from experts and responded knowledgably, skillfully, with facts and figures.

How many times did you meet him?

Not that many. Three, four, or five.

Why do you think he lost?

It’s very hard to beat an incumbent president. A president has four years to prepare for an election campaign. Only one incumbent Democrat has lost over the last century, and that was Jimmy Carter.

I also think the torrent of negative ads that hit Governor Romney over the summer at a time when he did not have the funding to respond was very damaging. Finally, the American people tend to want to give first-term presidents a second chance.

Some people think his toned-down performance in the second and third debates may have hurt him as well.

I don’t think he toned it down at all. I think he was equally good in the second debate, and in the third debate I thought [Romney] had the right strategy, which is you don’t want to get in an ugly brawl over foreign policy when you’re trying to show the American people that you’re ready to lead.

But it seems to me that we’re in a more knuckle-baring era, and maybe the American people do want to see that kind of fighting in a foreign policy debate.

How would you compare Romney to George W. Bush?

It’s hard to say because I spent more time with Bush. Bush was very good at getting to the heart of an issue very quickly. He asked very tough questions in policy meetings. He also seemed to have more of an easygoing manner than Romney. He was very good with people – the backslapping, “hey, I’m your buddy” kind of thing. That’s a real skill in politics.

In other words, Romney is, as some people argue, a bit stiff.

I didn’t say that at all. I didn’t say anything against Romney. I’m just praising Bush for being a very good retail politician.

One of the reasons many Orthodox Jews voted for Romney was Obama’s alleged anti-Israel bias. Yet, some people argue that Obama’s position vis-à-vis Israel is identical to Bush’s; that Bush, too, supported a two-state solution.

I don’t buy that at all. First of all, President Bush worked much better with the Israelis. Second of all, President Bush supported a two-state solution, but with the Palestinians having corresponding obligations. And third of all, President Bush did not want to have preconditions before getting to the negotiating table, whereas President Obama presumed to draw what the final lines were in his speech before Netanyahu’s visit a couple of years ago.

CDC: Mumps Outbreak Due to Yeshiva Learning Style

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

A massive outbreak of mumps among Orthodox Jews in 2009 was due to the system of learning in yeshivas, according to a report by NPR.

Over 3,5000 people got sick after an 11 year-old boy came home from the UK with the illness in June of 2009, prompting New York authorities to issue an additional shot of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine to children who were already considered vaccinated.

Officials at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) determined that sitting for hours at a time with a chavruta – learning partner – could bombard the system with more of the illness than for which the vaccines generally provide immunity.

Vote Early, Vote Often!

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

The title of this article is the supposed motto of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago, but for Americans living in Israel it means, literally, vote twice. Both Israel and America are holding important elections and, hopefully, most Orthodox Jews will be voting. The United States will be holding its regular four-year elections for president and many other offices, and Israel will be voting for an entire “new” Parliament (Knesset).

This year, the main organization actively soliciting votes in Israel for the American elections is “iVOTE Israel” (www.ivoteisrael.com). There are a few paid professionals but most are volunteers who are working to encourage Americans living in Israel to vote in the American elections. The main purpose of the campaign is that American politicians should be more aware that aside from the many Jewish voters in the United States who support Israel, there are also about 160,000 potential American voters living in Israel. “iVOTE Israel” has garnered about 60,000 – 75,000 votes in this first year of its operation and I was happy to volunteer to help gather votes. At none of the meetings that I attended was there a request to vote for a specific party. At public meetings, both American parties were represented and the representatives explained their candidate’s approach to helping Israel.

I understand that there were also Democrat and Republican organizations soliciting votes, but they did not seem to be too active and we did not see any of that activity. It is true that many Israelis are disheartened by the Democratic administration’s handling of matters important to Israel and our leaders seem to be afraid of the potential effect of another four years of this Democrat President. They are afraid that once he no longer is concerned about reelection, he will follow a much harder anti-Israel approach.

Israel, of course, is very aware and appreciative of American aid, but many here are afraid of Obama. They feel that he has made too many pro-Muslim statements and has downplayed violent Muslim terror acts. Terror should not be ignored and hopefully Americans of all faiths will wake up to what is happening in Europe and in the rest of the world. Europe itself seems to be finally waking up to the dangers that their Muslim populations pose and Europeans, hopefully, are beginning to realize that suicide murderers are a danger not only to Jews but also to all Europeans.

There will also be elections in Israel. The Israeli Knesset usually serves for up to four years but the Knesset can decide to hold elections earlier (as it usually does) or the Israeli president can decide that elections should be held when the parties in the Knesset are stalemated. The Knesset rarely completes a full term. PM Netanyahu recently decided to call for elections a bit early because he feels that he has an electoral advantage.

For Orthodox Jews in Israel, the coming election may not be too beneficial. Unfortunately, Orthodox Jews are as divided as ever. Each religious faction believes that it can garner more seats by going it alone and Orthodox Jewry loses out. The Religious Zionists are again trying to unite but, as we have seen in the past, the National Union, an alliance of several parties, may break away again. Some disgruntled religious politicians already seem to be planning another national religious party. The Sephardic Shas Party also may have patched up its internal differences and Aryeh Deri will once again serve in a leadership role. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef decreed that there should be two heads to the party: Eli Yishai and Arye Deri. This should prove interesting. Let us hope that at least the Agudah and the Degel Hatorah Parties remain united.

The High Holidays are over, the children are back in school, the weather is still fairly warm and politics has become the major topic of conversation. We pray for internal and external peace.

Changing Our Image for the Better

Saturday, September 8th, 2012

Note from Harry Maryles: I occasionally talk about Jewish heroes on this blog. I am proud to offer this guest post by one of the more quiet ones.

NCSY alumnus Allison Josephs (seen here with her “Partner in Torah” actress Mayim Bialik) is a unique individual. She is not a talker. She is a doer. Allison noticed a gaping hole in our image as Orthodox Jews. One created by – among other things – one Chilul HaShem after another that I often read about in the national and world media and report on here. We have been damaged by so many negative stories and bad apples that it has hurt our mission as “a light unto the nations”.

Some people have complained that I am one of the guilty parties on this front… that my blog carries more than its share of negativity. I must admit that a very large portion of my posts are negative. But that isn’t because I seek to throw mud on my own people. It is because I am trying to make us a better people.

Ignoring the bad just keeps the bad coming. Sweeping it under the carpet and not protesting it is almost tantamount to endorsing it. Shtika K’Hoda’ah. I would like nothing better than to post one positive story after another. Stories that inspire rather than demoralize. Believe it or not I look for such stories and when I find them I report on them.

Unfortunately there are more of the other kind of stories. But there are some very good people out there that seek to change how the world sees us and at least one person who seems to be doing a good job of it – Allison Josephs. She is doing something very unique that counters all the negativity in our world. But instead of my going on about it – I will let her do the talking. Her words follow.

Hello Emes Ve-Emunah readers! My name is Allison Josephs and five years ago I did something kind of crazy – I quit my jobs (I had two at that time and was the sole bread winner for our family and a mother of two while my husband was in law school) in order to attempt to start an online revolution. The problem: the perception of Orthodox Jews in the non-Orthodox and non-Jewish circles. The solution: a world wide Orthodox image makeover campaign, of course!

The truth, though, is that my degree was in Philosophy, not public relations, and my work experience was in Jewish outreach, not public relations! Fortunately, I’ve always had a flair for the dramatics, and right around this time, YouTube was getting popular. I noticed that the mainstream media basically only reported negative stories about religious Jews and that popular books, movies, and TV shows always depicted Orthodox Jews as over the top and extreme.

But with YouTube, *I* could tell the story myself. I’m a ba’alas teshuva and although the religious Jewish world is far from perfect, living a life imbued with Torah wisdom and observance gives my existence purpose. I was a child who despite having a very happy secular upbringing, spent years searching for the meaning of life and I was delighted to find such gems within my own heritage.

As soon as I discovered the beauty and depth of Torah living and learning, I wanted to share the information with every other Jew on the planet. (I started with my own family, who are all observant today.) Rejecting something with knowledge is one thing, but most Jews in the world today have essentially rejected a life of Jewish observance with very little book or experiential knowledge.

I had seen a YouTube show called “lonelygirl15″ about a teenage girl who brought the viewers into her life through the medium of online videos. Being on YouTube, I saw, essentially gives the viewer a sense of “meeting” the person who’s on the screen. I noticed how when people meet nice, normal Orthodox Jews, the stereotypes just naturally get broken down. Having every person in the world personally meet an Orthodox Jew would of course be impossible. There aren’t very many of us and we tend to live in only certain cities.

One Judaism, Two Perspectives on Dressing Modesty

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

When it comes to modesty in dress there is a wide variety in the way various segments of Orthodox Jewry put it into practice. But the basics are the same for all. Without getting into the details of the basic Halacha, I will just say that modesty for women requires that she cover those parts of the body that are considered “her nakedness” (Erva). Those are the biblical parameters which apply in all places – at all times in public. The rabbinic parameters (Tznius) go beyond the biblical requirement and are relative to the culture where one resides.

So that in places like Iran, a Jewish woman may be required to follow the modesty customs of that culture which go far beyond what is biblically required. In places like America, the biblical and rabbinic parameters are the same. Modesty in western cultural terms do not meet even the biblical Erva standard.

Some of the more right wing segments of Orthodoxy insist on taking matters of Tznius to much greater lengths than Halacha requires – even those that live in westernized cultures like America and Israel. For example, even though an exposed lower leg below the knee is not considered Erva, Chasidic – and many other Charedi communities require that it be covered anyway. And consider it highly immodest if a woman’s leg below the knee is fully exposed.

Which brings me to two articles in the Forward. One by Judy Brown, a woman who is Charedi. The other by Simi Lampert who is Modern Orthodox. It is interesting to see the similarity of attitude expressed by both.

One might think that a Modern Orthodox woman would be put off by the attitude expressed by the Charedi woman. But in both cases they seem to be saying the same thing. Which is that they understand the purpose behind those modesty rules. And both expressed the desire to follow them.

Both women have the desire to look attractive by western cultural standards and have tried on immodest clothing in private just to see how they would look. Both thought they looked great, and both would never consider wearing such clothing in public. They both feel a level of comfort in following the modesty rules.

The difference between them is cultural and not Halachic. In the Charedi culture, the idea of not wearing stockings is considered a Tznius violation. So much so that when an error in perception was made about the Mrs. Brown not wearing stockings even though her legs were covered below the knee, all hell broke loose. Here is how she tells the story:

[T]he young man passing by the yard declared that he had seen me with bare legs. Like a careless whore…

It was Tuesday, mid-August, a (very hot) day… I filled up the baby pool for my children in the yard settled on a plastic chair with cherry ices and dunked my legs in the pool, right where the water spurted from the hose.

It was then that the Hasid passed. It was then that he saw me — beige pantyhose transparent, legs seemingly bare — and, looking quickly away, hurried to tell the rav. I had not seen him at all. I did not know of the bewildered chaos going on in his mind until later that night, when my husband came home and stared at me quizzically.

The rav had called, he said. Could it be true? That I had sat outside with no pantyhose at all?

Of course she was wearing stockings and it was just a misperception on the part of a passerby. The point here is how seriously this Chumra is taken in the world of Chasidim. As ‘modern’ as Mrs. Brown became in other areas, this area is sancrosanct to her.

This would never happen in Modern Orthodoxy. Of course modern Orthodox Jews do not have the infra structure or the desire to dictate how its members dress. As Mrs. Lambert points out:

If my rabbi approached my husband about what I was wearing in my own yard, I’d almost definitely move. The very next day.

While both communities follow the same Halachos of modesty there is no mechanism, or really any pressure in Modern Orthodoxy that would force a violator to adhere to Halacha. One will find that modesty laws are occasionally breached by those I would call MO-Lite. The kind of guilt described by Mrs. Brown does not exist in MO circles, at least not on the level she seemed to have about it.

African American May Run for NY Mayor as Fusion Candidate of Orthodox Jews, Evangelicals

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

The NY Post’s Michael Benjamin, himself a former Democratic assemblyman, reported that NY State Senator Malcolm Smith from Queens, a Democrat, is planning to be the city’s 109th mayor, come 2013, running on the Republican ticket. He also suggested that Smith’s trial balloon had rattled some GOP leaders, who are attempting to nip it in the bud. Democrats are saying Smith is just a stalking horse for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, meant to sway black votes from former city Comptroller Bill Thompson.

To remind you, Malcolm Smith’s former 15 minutes of fame happened over his pitifully short stint as State Senate majority leader — when he lost his majority after Democratic senators Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate defected to the GOP. It was political slapstick at its worst, and quite a record from which to recover. In the end, Smith was deposed by the Senate Democrats.

Benjamin reminded his readers that Smith still faces questions about a suspicious awarding of the contract to run the Aqueduct “Racino,” and irregularities at some charities with which he is associated.

“One of the questions we ask candidates is, ‘Have you ever done anything that would be an embarrassment to you or the Republican Party?’” Queens GOP Chairman Phil Ragusa told the NY Daily News. “I don’t think he could pass that test.”

Except that the same Daily News report says State Republican Chairman Ed Cox confirmed that he met with Smith “at the urging of a mutual friend,” but declined to comment further.

“There’s an opening for a fusion candidate in the 2013 race,” says Benjamin, pointing out that all the Democratic candidates have been left of center, yet as the last five mayoral elections have shown, the left no longer has the majority even in New York City.

The alliance Benjamin envisions would combine Republican voters, the Orthodox Jewish bloc, outer-borough “Koch Democrats” and minority voters.

He suggests that the Haredi and the evangelical Christian communities are actively looking for a “traditional-values standard-bearer.”

The conservative blog “PlanetAlbany” opined that the best candidate would be an African-American former Democratic assemblyman who is pretty conservative on social issues, and an insightful political observer – namely NY Post pundit Michael Benjamin.

Colin Campbell of “Politicker” reminded his readers recently of the growing influence Orthodox Jewish voters are commanding in NY City politics, and that “even though the community’s voters might side strongly with the Republican candidate in the 2013 mayoral race, they are mostly registered as Democrats and candidates seeking to win the Democratic primary are extensively courting the community.”

All the candidates recognize this reality and are working hard to engage Orthodox voters, reported Yossi Gestetner a few months ago. As the candidates competing for the nomination are nearly identical on social issues, some have been working to separate themselves in other ways.”

Gestetner brought the example of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who started his own Iran boycott website and took a firm stance against the campaign within the Park Slope Food Co-op boycotting Israeli products, calling it “wrongheaded and an affront to American values and interests.”

Last week Governor Andrew Cuomo may have committed a costly mistake when vetoed a bill that would have made it possible for many special-education students to be placed in private schools using public funds. Catholic and Orthodox Jewish groups had lobbied for the bill, arguing that children learn best in settings that resemble their home environment.

It may be just the kind of rallying point that would help elect New York’s Third Consecutive Republican mayor.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/politics/african-american-may-run-for-ny-mayor-as-fusion-candidate-with-orthodox-jews/2012/08/05/

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